LAS VEGAS – To most men, the thought of entering the ring with the greatest heavyweight fighters in the world wouldn’t be considered.
Bareback riders aren’t like most men. They don’t mind a prize fight, and Saturday’s third round at the National Finals Rodeo was a 15-round bout. It was Cole Franks’ first foray in the NFR’s “Eliminator Pen,” and he matched up just fine.
“It’s really nerve-wracking,” said Franks, 20, an NFR newcomer from Clarendon, Texas. “When I was waiting on the draw last night, I was getting really anxious and couldn’t sit still.”
By the time he nodded his head, Franks was ready. He rode Four Star Rodeo’s Deep Springs for 85 points to finish sixth in the round, worth $4,352. He has pushed his NFR earnings to $28,071.
“I got really lucky that I drew one I had been on before, which worked out the jitters since I knew what to expect more,” he said. “I hadn’t been on any of these other horses before.”
This was the first night the toughest-to-ride horses in the world are scheduled to be out at this year’s NFR. They will return next Thursday for the eighth round, and they definitely earned their moniker by being true eliminators. High scores were hard to come by, and a couple of cowboys hit the Thomas & Mack Center dirt hard after being bucked off.
Franks had ridden Deep Springs for 82 points in Pendleton, Oregon, this past September, and that allowed him a bit more confidence when it came to trying to spur the strong animal.
“It was definitely a dog fight both times I had him,” Franks said. “he’s real strong and pumps his head, and the rigging drops out of there. He’s just real big and strong.”
The bareback riders get a bit of a break heading into the next two nights. Sunday’s fourth round will feature the “Hopper Pen” of bucking horses, the animals that are supposed to be the easiest to ride. Monday’s fifth round will expose the “TV Pen,” which will showcase the most electric bucking horses in bareback riding.
“I’m going to have to let it all hang out, because it’s going to be a spurring contest,” he said, referring to the cowboys spurring from the horse’s neck back to the rigging in rhythm with the animal’s bucking motion. “Really the only way you’re going to get rewarded (Sunday) night is if you make the perfect ride.”
Of course, as one of the top 15 bareback riders in ProRodeo, he knew it was going to be a battle over 10 December nights to decide this year’s world championship.
“It’s awesome to be part of this field,” Franks said. Everyone here makes you bring your best, too. Everybody here wants you to win just as badly as you want to win, and they’re going to push you to try and beat them.”